Our relationship expert explains how to maintain your self-image and boundaries within a long-term relationship

Have you ever looked at yourself within a long-term relationship and realised you had no idea who you were? It can happen all too easily, if you don’t know how to protect and respect your own independence. Here are five easy places to start.

 

1) Keep in touch with people who know you best

During a long-term relationship, it’s easy to spend more time with other couples than with your own, original friends. Couples are an easy fit to meet for dinner, trips to the cinema and holidays. You might also move away from your hometown and begin to feel friendships sliding. At times like that, it’s easy let the older friendships wane.

Don’t! Never give up your oldest or most-loved friends. Old friends are the strings that connect you back to your younger self, your inner self. Friends who knew you when you were a creative art student are the only people who’ll realise why your corporate career doesn’t completely fulfil you. Friends who knew you when you were single can tell if you start losing vital parts of who you used to be. Old friends have celebrated your triumphs and supported you through losses; you can lie to yourself, but you can’t lie to a friend.

Sometimes, relationships put a strain on friendships. Maybe your partner doesn’t like a certain friend of yours, or you can’t stand your friend’s spouse. Again, don’t cut them off. Instead, socialise with them alone, or find activities you can do together, such as shopping, or an evening class or book group.

 

2) Don’t downplay your passions

My parents had lovely friends, James and Margaret. They’d been married for 26 years and had two children at university. Occasionally, Margaret couldn’t make a dinner party because she was out with a painting club she attended regularly. I once asked Margaret about her painting and she rushed to minimise it. “Oh, it’s really nothing. We just visit local beauty spots and splash some watercolours about. It’s just something silly I do.”

A while later, we all visited James and Margaret’s home. Looking for the bathroom, I accidentally walked into her upstairs studio and saw the “silly” paintings for myself. They were glorious! Exquisite, beautiful nature scenes that captured water, light and scenery perfectly. Yet they were all stacked against the wall in a back bedroom, seen by no one. Nobody ever took Margaret’s talent seriously, because she made everybody think it didn’t matter.

If you have a passion, protect it. Guard it with your life. It’s what makes you you. Talk about it confidently. If you refer to your hobbies as “silly” or “daft”, other people won’t take them seriously, and they won’t expect you to prioritise them. Yes, you have a million other demands on your time, especially with a house, a partner and a family to look after, but that’s no reason to give up on your hobbies and interests. In fact, it makes it even more important to reserve time to follow your bliss.

If you want people to respect your passions, respect them yourself. Pursue them proudly. They are not only an important part of you, but they are a much-needed solace if you find yourself single again.

 

3) Don’t hang on your partner’s opinion

How you see yourself is everything. When you have confidence in yourself, you are Teflon-coated. But within a long-term relationship, it’s easy to borrow your partner’s opinion as an easy excuse not to make any tough changes. For example, you might feel you’ve gained weight. You know your clothes are getting tighter, buying new outfits is getting harder, and you’re constantly low in energy. But ask your partner how you look and they’ll probably say, “Great!”

That’s adorable, but it won't make you feel better. As soon as you’re next alone in a changing room, you’ll realise that you aren’t comfortable, even if your partner is. If you want to change yourself, change.

Similarly, try not to lend too much importance to a partner’s negative impression of you. How your partner describes you isn’t who you really are. Your partner might brush off your political opinions, technical knowledge, or views on current affairs, but that doesn’t mean they’re invalid. Curate your own tastes and value your own beliefs. Your partner is important, but they are just one person in many.

 

4) Date yourself

Once or twice a month, make a date to do something you love. Without your partner, unless it’s something that they love too. It’s easy to forget what makes your own heart soar: the music you love, the films you enjoy, or the food you relish. Join a group of like-minded people, or find a friend who shares your tastes.

By taking time for the things you love, you’re also giving your partner space to pursue their own passions, too. And when you reunite afterwards, you should both feel happy and have lots to share.

 

5) Keep a diary

Journalling—the art of keeping a daily diary—is a great way to reconnect with who you really are. Every morning, start your day by writing two or three pages of longhand, free-form script while you enjoy your morning cup of tea. I don’t mind what you write—your plans for the day, things you’re excited about (and thing you’re dreading), what you’re grateful for that morning—just as long as it is all about YOU.

People with giving natures often feel selfish thinking about themselves, so a diary is a simple and quick place to begin. Keep to private; it must be your safe space. Over time, re-read the diary to see a pattern in the things that regularly lift, or deaden, your spirits. It will be a wonderful, and easy, way to get to know the real you again. 

 

You can read more from Kate on her website

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